Big issues a matter of debate

Politicos descend on Denver for candidates' first showdown



The campaigns for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have scheduled a number of presidential debate watch parties around the state, both starting at 6:30 p.m. Here’s the two they’ve slated for Grand Junction:

• For Obama: Grand Junction campaign headquarters, 2454 U.S. Highway 6&50, Suite 112

• For Romney: Fly’n Roosters restaurant, 200 W. Grand Ave.

DENVER — Democratic President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, aren’t the only people who get to participate in the first presidential debate.

Just about everyone who is anyone in Colorado politics got debate fever, too.

While the two candidates studied in private for today’s 7 p.m. affair, numerous pre-debate events were held Tuesday all over the city, with a few more planned for today.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler talked about campaign finance matters at one.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and his 2010 Senate rival, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, talked about jobs and the economy at another.

And the chairmen of the two state parties, Republican Ryan Call and Democrat Rick Palacio, talked about everything else at still another.

Most of the pre-debates were cordial, and included several little light-hearted moments.

“I agree with my counterpart ... ” Palacio said at an event at the University of Denver, which is hosting tonight’s debate.

“That Romney is going to win?” Call interjected with a laugh.

“... on everything you just said except that,” Palacio finished.

The two were part of a larger panel discussion with DU professors talking about what’s made Colorado a swing state in this year’s presidential race, and what issues the two presidential contenders should focus on this evening.

Tonight’s topic is to be on domestic issues, so some on the panel said they expect energy development, Medicare funding and immigration to come up.

Others said they would like to hear such matters as states’ rights and campaign spending to be discussed.

“The biggest issue, the biggest unfunded liability we have is Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act does not change the structural problems in our Medicare,” said Sharon Lassar, director of DU’s Daniels College of Business Accountancy Program. “Until we tackle the structural problems, we will continue to have this unfunded liability that just keeps growing. It’s an issue that needs a better approach, a bipartisan approach.”

Other pre-debate events were a little more lively.

While conservative television host Glenn Beck and former New York Gov. and liberal television commentator Eliot Spitzer went at each other in a boxing-themed event aired only on the DISH satellite provider, Bennet and Buck held an “odd-couple” happy hour debate at the Denver Press Club.

Today’s events are expected to be just as animated.

The National Journal and Atlantic Monthly magazines will start the day with an “opportunity debate” featuring such speakers as Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams.

Meanwhile, several special-interest groups will gather in “issue alley” to be on hand to talk to whoever wants to listen about their issues.

Officially called DebateFest, the free event primarily is designed as an outdoor party for those who couldn’t get tickets to be inside. It features food, live music and political discussion of all forms.

It’ll even have a few protests. Like other minor-party candidates who weren’t invited to participate in the debate, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Jill Stein, plans to hold an “Occupy the Debate” event in issue alley.

Other third-party candidates, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson, also are expected to hold protests of their own.

Another presidential debate tradition will happen before tonight’s event even ends. That’s when surrogates for both candidates will gather in what is known as “spin alley,” an undefined location just outside the Ritchie Center where the debate will take place. It’ll be somewhere near where most of the estimated 5,000 members of the world press who are expected to be in attendance will be located. (Few of those press will be allowed inside the debate hall.)

As in past presidential debates, spin alley is loosely designed to allow supporters of both sides to talk about how well their candidates performed, including who allegedly “won” the event.

Though observers of the presidential debate do take the entire event seriously, at least some see it for its entertainment value.

“These are two very skilled debaters,” said DU political science professor Seth Masket. “They’re very bright men who think on their feet and they’re not particularly given to moments of passion or outbursts. So I’d like to hear someone mess up.”


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